Play Therapy

Young children frequently have difficulty talking about what is bothering them. This is not because they don’t want to discuss their thoughts and feelings, but because they haven’t yet developed the vocabulary or the thinking skills that they need to be able to do so.

Using a play-based approach to counseling children allows children to use toys and other play and art material to express their thoughts and feelings. In a session, children use their play to show the counselor what they are thinking and feeling. The counselor can use the play to communicate with children about what is happening in their lives and to help them explore alternative behaviors and attitudes.

In order to help build trust in the relationship with the child, I will keep what your child does and says in the therapy session private. Instead of talking about specifics of sessions, consultations with caregivers involve different ways to understand children and strategies to help them feel better about themselves and get along with others.

A book that can help parents and children to learn more about play therapy and what happens in a play session is: A Child’s First Book about Play Therapy by Marc A. Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata. Published by the American Psychological Association, APA Order Department, P.O. Box 2710, Hyattville, MD, 20784.

What to expect play in therapy to look like:

Before the first session:

Caregivers will need to explain the details of how often children will be coming to therapy, where it is, and basically what happens. Children seem to feel more comfortable if adults let them know that they do not have to talk to the counselor if they do not want to and that the main thing they will be doing is playing. It is important for adults to give children a simple explanation of their perception of the presenting problem and to suggest that generally children feel better about themselves and others after going to play therapy for a while. This helps get rid of children’s fears about coming to counseling.

In the session:

Children should wear comfortable play clothes, rather than “good” clothes to therapy. It is a fun process, and sometimes it is messy.

After a session: While it is appropriate for caregivers to let children know that they are interested in their child’s experience in the session, they should not question them about the experience. If your child draws or paints pictures or produces other artwork, caregivers should avoid questioning them about the art or praising or criticizing them.

Overview of Play Therapy